Hatching more than fish:

Fish hatcheries help raise a variety of rare species

To help recover threatened Eastern indigo snakes, Welaka National Fish Hatchery in Florida raises indigos for release to the wild. “The old stereotype of fish hatcheries doing fish and fish alone no longer holds,” says Tony Brady, deputy project leader at Welaka. “We’re getting into non-traditional things that shows we can adapt to any situation we’re entrusted with.”

Fish hatcheries across the country are taking a hands-on approach to recovering imperiled species that aren’t fish. Besides the snakes, here are a few non-fish species growing up alongside fish in hatcheries.

Alligator Snapping Turtles

Natchitoches Hatchery in Louisiana and Tishomingo Hatchery in Oklahoma raise alligator snapping turtles.

One of the largest freshwater turtle found in the United States, the alligator snapping turtle has a piece of flesh on its tongue to wiggle and lure unsuspecting fish, frogs, crawfish and other prey into its mouth, which then closes with a forceful snap of its jaw.

It once lived in deep rivers, swamps, canals and lakes from eastern Oklahoma to northern Florida, but habitat loss and over-harvest have hurt it.

Hine’s Emerald Dragonflies

Photos by USFWS

Genoa Hatchery in Wisconsin raises Hine’s emerald dragonflies

The only dragonfly on the Endangered Species list was believed to be extinct by the mid-1900s, but in 1988, one was found southwest of Chicago. Other small populations were then uncovered in Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri.

The greatest threat to the Hine’s emerald dragonfly is habitat destruction. Most of the wetland habitat that this dragonfly depends on for survival has been drained and filled to make way for urban and industrial development.

Juvenile James spiny mussels raised at the Virginia Fisheries and Aquatic Wildlife Center, Harrison Lake Hatchery. Photo by R. Mair/USFWS.

Harrison Lake Hatchery in Virginia, like many hatcheries across the nation, raises a host of mussel species.

Often overlooked, sometimes considered boring, maybe even expendable, mussels are super important to water quality and have a fascinating life history. Plus, they have some of the best names in the animal world: Atlantic pigtoe, Carolina Heelsplitter, Higgins’ Eye Pearlymussel … Incidentally, hatcheries raise all of these.

Working with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the hatchery formed the Virginia Fisheries and Aquatic Wildlife Center, which has released more than 185,000 tagged mussels in Virginia.

Wyoming Toads

Wyoming toads at Saratoga National Fish Hatchery in Wyoming. Photo by Ryan Moehring/USFWS.

Saratoga Hatchery in Wyoming and Leadville Hatchery in Colorado raise Wyoming toads.

The endangered Wyoming toad was briefly presumed extinct until a population was found at Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, which was established in 1993 to protect the two-inch-long toad, is closed to public use because of the toad.

Many groups have joined in efforts to help the toad, not all your normal conservationists. Coal Creek TAP of Laramie, Wyoming, offers Wyoming Toad IPA, bringing name recognition to the toad, calling the brew “extremely hoppy.”




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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.

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